Have you noticed Argentium Silver in your local jewellers? Have you wondered what it is and why you’ve never heard of it before?
Exactly what is Argentium Silver? Is it real silver? Is it better than Sterling Silver? Or more expensive?
Well, you are not alone in not knowing what it is. It is a new type of silver and is being seen more often in jewellers windows. And it’s well worth waiting for as it’s a pretty special silver.
In this blog, we intend to demystify what Argentium Silver is and answer all these questions and more.
What is Argentium Silver?
In a nutshell, Argentium Silver is a type of silver that has a higher silver content than sterling silver. It also contains different alloys than Sterling Silver. This not only makes it purer but also gives it distinct advantages over Sterling Silver.
For this reason, experts consider it a superior silver. The advantages of Argentium Silver happen to be significant in Silversmithing and its discovery is a major development in the jewellery industry.
When Was Argentium Silver Created?
In 1990 Peter Johns, an expert Silversmith and metallurgist, discovered Argentium Silver.
He was working at the Art and Design Research Institute (ADRI) at Middlesex University in the UK. A student at the School of Art and Design asked him how to stop Firestain when working on Sterling Silver.
Firestain, or Firescale, is a big problem when working with sterling silver and one we’ll talk about shortly.
How Did Its Development Come About?
Mr Johns, with his team of researchers, began adding varying amounts of Germanium to silver alloys. They discovered that, by doing so, the new silver they had created didn’t have the problem of firestain!
Not only that, this new silver seemed far better in other ways to Sterling Silver. Argentium had little to no tarnishing, increased heat resistance and unrivalled whiteness.
What is the Difference Between Argentium and Sterling Silver?
It’s worth outlining the composition of Sterling Silver to explain the difference between the two silvers.
Physical Properties of Sterling Silver
Pure silver is too soft and not durable enough to be made into jewellery or items for everyday use. Therefore, it is mixed with other metals (alloys). This makes it malleable enough to bend and shape but also hard enough for everyday use.
Sterling Silver is defined as being ‘925 Sterling Silver’. That is, it consists of 92.5% pure silver. It is then mixed with 7.5% of other metal alloys which, in the case of Sterling Silver, is often copper.
Another silver to mention is Britannia Silver. As the name implies, Britannia Silver comes from the United Kingdom.
It contains a pure silver content of 95.8%. This meant that it contained the highest proportion of pure silver than any other silver.
It has been the most highly-regarded silver, ever. That is, until the discovery of Argentium silver!
Physical Properties of Argentium Silver:
There are, in fact, two grades to Argentium Silver:
Argentium that contains at least 93.5% of pure silver. This means it has more pure silver than Sterling Silver.
Argentium 960 which contains 96% pure silver. Which means it contains more pure silver than even Britannia Silver.
The remaining 6.5% (or 4% in the case of Argentium 960) consists of alloys including a metal called Germanium. Germanium proved to have an immense advantage by eliminating the problem of ‘Firestain’.
Consequently, the main differences in the creation of Argentium and Sterling Silver are that:
a) It contains a higher pure silver content and,
b) It contains a different alloy which includes Germanium.
Quite a fantastic silver!
The Argentium Hallmarks
All precious metals are stamped and hallmarked by the Assay Office to guarantee the level of purity of the metals within them.
Argentium 935 Hallmark
Remember that this contains 93.5% pure silver and 6.5% alloys (with superior Germanium replacing some of the copper)
Whilst containing more pure silver than sterling silver, Argentium 935 is permitted to use the 925 Sterling Silver hallmark.
The addition of the winged unicorn signifies it is Argentium Silver.
Argentium 960 Hallmark
Argentium 960 is made of 96% pure silver and 4% alloys (again with the superior qualities of Germanium). Argentium 960 is allowed to carry the Brittania 958 hallmark – also with the addition of the winged unicorn stamp from the Argentium Silver Company marking it as Argentium Silver.
The Pros and Cons of Argentium
Sterling silver will react and tarnish with exposure to the surrounding environment. Most of all it reacts with perspiration and ultra-violet light. This is natural and can be removed with a jewellery cleaning cloth. But it is still a big downside to sterling silver which both jewellers and the public find a hindrance. No one enjoys having to clean their silver jewellery!
But does Argentium Silver tarnish? The answer is that Argentium has proven in tests to be much more resistant to tarnish. This is due to the marvellous qualities of the Germanium added to the alloys of Argentium Silver.
The Germanium within the alloy forms a transparent coating when it oxidises with the air, forming Germanium Oxide. This acts as a protective layer and prevents tarnish forming.
What is Firestain?
When any metal is made into a piece of jewellery or ornament it is heated and bent with tools to make it pliable, to shape and harden it.
A significant problem with Sterling Silver when heated and hammered is a dark stain can appear in the metal, called Firestain (sometimes called Firescale). This is where the oxygen in the flame reacts with the copper in the alloy, producing copper oxide. As the piece is repeatedly worked in this way the deeper parts of the silver can be affected.
This is illustrated in this video from Ronda Coryell.
The firestain needs to be removed as it obviously doesn’t look good on the finished item. This involves treating it with abrasives and acid to remove the staining. The removal of firestain can take a great deal of effort and adds to the labour-costs and makes the finished piece more expensive.
Added to that, the chemicals used to remove the firestain from sterling silver also add to the toxic load of the manufacture.
The marvellous thing about Argentium is that it does not lead to firestain. This is because of the added germanium in the alloy. This was a major discovery and gives Argentium a huge advantage over Sterling Silver.
Bright White Colour
According to the CEILAB (a Colour Measurement Scale), Argentium has a whiteness that other metals cannot compare to.
This includes sterling silver, platinum, palladium and even Rhodium (which is used to coat some silvers and white gold to give it its white colour).
The whiteness of Argentium is also the same all the way through the metal. This differs from many sterling silver pieces or white gold which have been rhodium-plated.
Harder Than Sterling Silver
Not only is Argentium harder than sterling silver but it can be hardened at lower temperatures. This reduces the chance of cracking and breaking.
It also helps its durability and increases scratch-resistance.
Nickel-free alloys are used in the production of Argentium. It is an excellent material for those with a nickel allergy.
Reactions to sterling silver are often down to the alloys in the silver, notably copper. As Argentium contains less copper (and is also nickel-free) this means it is an extremely inert and hypoallergenic metal.
It is a super material for those who have sensitive skin.
It also has anti-bacterial properties.
As described above, with no firestain occurring in the manufacture of Argentium it is less labour-intensive.
For the reasons above, Argentium is regarded as being environmentally friendly. Those who work with it are not exposed to hazardous chemicals or the toxic load that goes with them as they are with Sterling Silver.
Easier to Work With
Argentium Silver can be heat-hardened at lower temperatures making it easier to work with and less prone to crack and break.
Used With Recycled Silver
The Argentium Silver Company in the UK, who produce Argentium, are very proud of the fact that they use recycled silver in making Argentium. They state that they can provide traceability of the raw silver that they use.
As Argentium is not plated, it is very low maintenance. As it is hard and strong it keeps its shape and lustre.
Does Argentium Contain Copper?
If copper causes all these problems in Sterling Silver which doesn’t seem to happen in Argentium, does this mean that Argentium doesn’t contain any copper? Well, actually no, it doesn’t mean this.
There is still copper in Argentium but there is much less than there is in Sterling Silver. It is the addition of Germanium that prevents firestain and tarnish from occurring and hugely minimise any allergy problems that may occur with sterling silver.
The Argentium Silver Company
The company are aware that they have to educate people to the virtues of this wonderful Silver. They have gone to great lengths to create a solid brand identity to ensure its name and trademark reflects this.
They use the Flying Unicorn logo (shown above) and this is a symbol to look for when buying Argentium.
Is Argentium Silver more Expensive than Sterling Silver?
Whilst labour and manufacturing costs are less with Argentium there is more pure silver in it than in Sterling Silver.
The Argentium Silver Company also has to pay for the patents and trademarks which are costly.
Because of this, Argentium is more expensive than Sterling Silver at present although not by much for, what is, a superior product.
Is Argentium Silver Accepted Within The Industry?
Those who work within the jewellery industry can see the advantages of Argentium and realise this superior silver is here to stay.
But the buying public has yet to hear much about it and Argentium is not visibly or noticeably different to rhodium-plated silver. This lack of recognition will slowly but surely change.
As it is a little bit more expensive than Sterling Silver, it may take a while to convince the buying public of the superior quality of Argentium.
In our business, we are seeing more Argentium Silver items available.
This video is a real celebration of Argentium, how it was created and it’s advantages from the viewpoint of those in the Silversmithing industry and is well worth a watch, if you are interested.
We think Argentium will be increasingly talked about and used in the jewellery industry.
You are sure to see many more items in your local jewellers which are made from Argentium Silver.
We hope this blog answered all your questions about Argentium and what you need to look for when you wish to purchase this wonderful silver.
The Argentium Silver Company